Nick Fletcher Interview

TWR: Tell us a bit about your musical background and influences?

NF: Well, I started at the age of 12 learning to play the guitar, and at first I had a few lessons in School, followed by some private tuition. It was all a bit difficult as my guitar was very cheap and nasty and cuts your fingers to shreds like a cheese grater!
After a short period of time I started teaching myself pretty much everything that I could get my ears and head around. I got a cheap second-hand electric which was equally dreadful, but at least it made a noise and could be plugged in, which was what I wanted to hear rather than the acoustic guitar. It was Hank Marvin that got me hooked on the electric guitar. ‘Footapper’ by the Shadows was to blame for my misspent youth!! I loved Hank and from then on it was electric guitar all the way for the next few years. It also goes without saying that a group of four young guys from Liverpool made a huge impression; they included a certain John Lennon and Paul McCartney! Another large factor is I have an older brother who introduced me to so many great bands and I was in heaven listening to all this wonderful music.

Led Zeppelin were the next big thing to enthral me. Jimmy page turned me onto folk music as well as blues and great rock and Ian Andersen from Jethro Tull got me back into wanting to do more with the acoustic guitar. So many amazing bands, too many to mention caught my attention, however 1973 and Genesis appeared on my musical horizon....That was life changing. I literally wore out ‘Selling England by the Pound’ and then bought all the previous albums. I was someone who needed to hear everything a band had to offer, even then! Of course my Mother never approved of my obsession with Rock music but she did concede that Genesis were probably ok because of the classical influence in their music. She tried hard to get me to like Classical music and I secretly loved it, but it was hard to admit to liking what was considered ‘snooty posh’ music growing up in the city of Steel and attending the local comprehensive School, which in the 70’s was very much along the lines of the film ‘Kes’ by Northern writer Barry Hines - loads of swearing and a very hard environment to navigate your way around if you had any artistic inclinations! I have however always been a determined and tenacious person and nothing was going to get in the way of my musical aspirations, especially my critical peers.
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My Mum bought me a ‘Segovia’ album and I knew that Steve Hackett liked this guy, so that immediately made it cool to listen to this ‘old geezer’ whose music I thought was beautiful in every way. Classical guitar then became my next great passion but it never replaced my love of the electric guitar, it was just another tool by which to express my inner feelings.

TWR: How did you become involved with John Hackett?

NF: I met John in 2009. He was in the audience with his family listening to solo recital I was giving in our home City of Sheffield. I believe it was the Cathedral. John made a point of talking to me at the end of the concert and introduced himself and of course I knew of him straight away, as I had admired his flute playing very much alongside his brother. It was a serendipitous meeting which changed the course of my life and John and I have been working together in various guises ever since and of course Steve has become a good friend too.

TWR: You and John have worked together on several albums including a couple of acoustic guitar/flute albums. These have included transcripts of existing repertoire. How do you go about selecting such pieces and what problems are there in effecting the transcription?

NF: John and I both have a great passion for classical music J.S Bach and Handel are both favourite composers so it wasn’t hard to find great transcriptions of their music for us to perform together. We also play some South American music, which I am also very keen on – the syncopated rhythms and colourful harmonies really grab me.

TWR: Are there pieces which you thought of for transcription but opted not to, for one reason or another?

NF: Yes – the extremely difficult ones, ha ha! But joking aside, there are some pieces which don’t lend themselves to our combination of instruments.

TWR: For the technically minded amongst our readers, tell us a little about your recording set up and the guitars you use. How does your studio set up differ from the one you use for playing live?

NF: The Guitars I use are mainly PRS electrics, plus a Fender Strat a lovely Gretsch , an Ibanez arch top Jazz guitar and also a very nice Crafter steel string acoustic.
I use Blackstar amps and mostly Boss effects pedals. I don’t have any recording gear but I do have some very obliging friends to help with that side of things, usually poor old John who has to put up with my intense approach to recording. I must be a pain in the arse sometimes because once I have an idea it kind of takes me over and I won’t quit until it’s in the can, as they say! I am an obsessive and intense musician. I think this often comes out in my playing.

TWR: Your new album certainly took me by surprise, totally different to what I had heard before. What prompted the change?

NF: Well for me it’s no change at all...‘Cycles of Behaviour’ developed off the back of ‘Beyond the Stars’ which I did with John in 2018. I had ideas that I wanted to develop further and ‘Cycles’ was the culmination of those ideas. The album has a lot of Prog in it but I also wanted to bring in some of my Jazz fusion background into the mix as well. Classical guitar has been a main stay for me for the past 25 years but now it felt like a good time to put myself out there as an electric guitarist, which as I mentioned earlier was in fact my first love.
It’s not been an easy transition as I have never rated myself as an electric guitar player. I always felt in awe of more brilliant players and have always been reticent about recording music with the electric guitar. Even now I’m really not sure if I have anything to say with the instrument. I pretty much feel the same way about the classical guitar. I love the challenge of the different approaches to playing but if I have anything to say creatively that’s for others to say, I just love playing music.
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TWR: I assume this one was done under Lockdown conditions? What problems did that throw up for you and how did you overcome them?

NF: Actually much of the album had been in demo form before lockdown and it was a case of getting other musicians to add their parts into the mix. That’s where it got tricky! Because of the lockdown the musicians had to do it all remotely which they did, and brilliantly! It doesn’t cause any problems for excellent musicians to do it this way. The entire band knew exactly what the music required and with some guidance from me it all fell into place.
Caroline Bonnett my co producer and engineer is very gifted and was incredibly helpful and accommodating at putting the album together. Mixing it and mastering it brilliantly so the Sonics were just as they should be.

TWR: There is evidently a concept of sorts threading through the tracks on it. What is the guiding idea behind it all?

NF: Yes you are right it does have a conceptual element to it. Cycles of Behaviour refers to history repeating itself. Many things come around again and it would appear that each successive generation has to learn the hard way. The world at present has echoes of a bygone era repeating itself. I only hope that world war 3 is not imminent! The world got screwed up in the 20th century let’s hope that doesn’t happen again. In saying that, every century seems to have been screwed up. Usually at the hands of politicians, rulers and Religion! So I think the title of the album and some of the content of the music reflects this idea.

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TWR: Tell us a little about the ideas for the tracks and how you put them together?

NF: The opener Cycles of behaviour - was originally going to be a song but that just wasn’t happening so it became an instrumental. Dave Bainbridge, Russ Wilson and Tim Harries really made this track come alive and I am so grateful for their musical ideas and skill.
Heat is rising - was written by me, with John writing lyrics and a melody to make it into a song.
Hope in your eyes - a song about mental illness and addiction. I think it’s an interesting song not only lyrically but it combines that early Genesis vibe with some Jazz fusion harmonic changes, not dissimilar to the type of thing that Bill Bruford was doing in the late 70’s.
Tyrant and Knave - a hard edge rock instrumental with overtones of Michael Schenker!
Desolation sound - inspired by the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown and is very dark and sinister. I think of it as a kind of mini movie score as it is very cinematic.
Interconnected - a song which I wanted to sound like a cross between the Beach Boys and 80’s Genesis. It has those kind of vocal harmonies and 12 string electric guitars tuned in 5ths. However listening to the finished song it now sounds a bit more Canterbury prog, more like say Caravan. It has some wonderful flute from John that is reminiscent of the ‘Defector’ and ‘Spectral Mornings’ days. It’s a song about a young boy finding his way in the world. A world that is interconnected for good or ill!
Annexation - a track that starts out very pastoral and gentle but soon the tanks roll in and take over. It get’s kind of heavy - hence the title.
The final track, the longest on the album is Philosopher King - A song about the need for wise rulers and leadership in troubled times. It’s a bit epic in character. I had a great time writing this one and John and I had much fun recording the basic tracks. However that was a bit odd considering the heavy subject matter and the grandiose nature of the song!

TWR: Future plans?

NF: Future plans. Firstly I have a new flute and guitar duo CD coming out in May called ‘The Goldfinch’. That is of course with John. We perform music by J.S Bach, G.F Handel and Vivaldi. It’s a very virtuosic album which really showcases John extraordinary flute abilities.
I am possibly going to do a follow up to Cycles but that’s all very tentative at the moment. The John Hackett band continues and we are hoping to get back on the road again ASAP, including a visit to Southampton on August the 1st. This will be our first gig after the 1st lockdown in 2020!

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